This review details a journey by bus between Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Belgrade (Serbia).
From Sarajevo to Belgrade by bus
Those who follow this blog for a while longer know that I’m not fond of long-distance bus trips to put it mildly.
To me, there is no better way to travel than by train and I certainly do love flying too, taking dozens of flights each year.
However, sometimes there is just no alternative than taking a long-distance bus when you are travelling – which was the case when I had to make my way to Belgrade after a visit to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.
A trip gone wrong
Having celebrated New Year in Sarajevo, I had to make my way back home to Bucharest in Romania.
To get home, I had bought two separate Air Serbia flight tickets: On January 2nd I would fly from Sarajevo to Belgrade, spend a day in the Serbian capital, and fly onward to Bucharest on the 3rd.
The Sarajevo-Belgrade flight was just 35 euro, while the Belgrade-Bucharest flight set me back 40 euro.
If booked on one single ticket the costs would have been well over 200 euro, so booking two one-way tickets seemed like the best bet.
However, my Air Serbia aeroplane never showed up in Sarajevo.
While I was sitting at the airport I saw flight after flight appearing as “cancelled” on the departures board, which wasn’t too surprising given the dense fog that day.
Unfortunately, my Air Serbia flight to Belgrade was soon cancelled as well when the airport even closed down all operations for a two-hour period.
The Air Serbia desk in the terminal was soon mobbed by a big crowd of inconvenienced passengers.
When I received an e-mail that my flight has been rescheduled to the following day, I knew I had to look for alternative transport.
The problem was that my rescheduled flight the next day would now arrive in Belgrade well after the departure of my Belgrade to Bucharest flight.
As I was booked on separate tickets, Air Serbia would not have any responsibility whatsoever to put me on the next available flight to Bucharest.
Besides, as the next Belgrade-Bucharest flight was only scheduled on the 5th of January, booking a new ticket would not only cost me a lot of money but would also mean being stuck in Belgrade for another two days.
As there are currently no international trains serving Sarajevo (apart from irregular summer-only services to the Croatian coast on the Sarajevo-Mostar-Ploče railway line) I knew that the only other option was to take a bus.
I therefore hopped straight into a taxi towards the bus station to see if I could book a seat on a Belgrade-bound bus.
With a bit of luck I could still arrive in time to catch my Belgrade-Bucharest on the 3rd of January.
Sarajevo bus stations
Sarajevo has two different bus stations.
The main “Autobuska Stanica Sarajevo” (Sarajevo Bus Station) is located right next to the train station and was the first one I went to.
This main bus station is about 2.5 kilometres west of the old town and can easily be reached by taking tram line 1 to its final stop of “Željeznička stanica” (railway station).
Although some of the bus companies serving this stations like Centrotrans allow you to book tickets online, most still work with old-fashioned paper tickets which have to be bought on the spot.
It’s often best to call the bus station telephone number in advance to inquire about available seats and to check whether you can perhaps reserve a ticket by phone.
Unfortunately, it turned out that all buses to Belgrade (called Beograd in both Bosnian and Serbian) from the main bus station were fully booked that day.
My last chance was therefore to try another – slightly more obscure – bus station.
Eastern bus station
Besides the main bus station, is a second bus station in Sarajevo with regular services to Belgrade.
This is the Autobuska Stanica Istočno Sarajevo (Sarajevo Eastern Bus Station) which is located close to the airport but far out of the city centre.
The Eastern Bus Station is 8.5 kilometres away from Sarajevo’s old town and as it’s not easy to reach with public transport you are probably better off taking a taxi as a tourist.
Sarajevo’s Eastern Bus Station is located in a Serb-dominated neighbourhood of the city which is part of the Republika Srpska entity.
It is therefore unsurprising that you can mostly find services to cities in Serbia and Montenegro from this bus station.
If you take a taxi from downtown Sarajevo to the Eastern Bus Station you should not be surprised if the driver suddenly stops halfway during the journey to take the taxi sign off the car roof.
This is because taxis from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina are not officially licensed to operate inside the Republika Srpska (and vice versa) although everyone basically does with this little trick!
Buying the ticket
Fortunately there were still tickets available at Sarajevo’s Eastern Bus Station for the night bus to Belgrade.
I paid KM40 (20.50 euro) for the bus ticket between Sarajevo and Belgrade.
As the bus would only depart at 10pm, I had plenty of time left to return to Sarajevo’s lively city centre for a meal and a couple of beers with friends.
Just before 9pm I was back at the Eastern Bus Station, which felt almost completely deserted.
Fortunately there is a bar right next to the bus station where you can wait for you departure with a cold beer in hand.
This being the Republika Srpska, there is obviously no Sarajevsko beer served.
Instead, it’s either Serbia’s most popular beer brand Jelen or Nektar beer from the city of Banja Luka in the Republika Sprska what you will drink.
Although the old town of Sarajevo with its Ottoman-era architecture was just a few kilometres away it already felt like I was in Serbia and no longer in Bosnia.
My bus from Sarajevo’s Eastern Bus Station to Belgrade was operated by Kondor.
The bus journey from Bosnia’s capital of Sarajevo to Serbia’s capital of Belgrade would take around 8 hours.
I certainly wasn’t looking forward to it.
About 20 minutes before departure, the bus station slowly filled up as passengers were dropped off by friends and relatives or arrived by taxi.
Some 15 minutes before departure, the Kondor bus arrived at the bus station.
Although the bus is a bog-standard coach devoid of any luxury, I was delighted to find out that I didn’t have a seat neighbour, which surely made the long journey a bit more bearable.
To the Serbian border
As my overnight journey was obviously in full darkness, there wasn’t much of any view to enjoy.
However, on some of the better-lit roads you could see that much of the journey takes you right through the mountains and hills of Bosnia.
Indeed, from some previous experiences travelling by bus between Bosnia and Serbia I knew that the scenery is certainly beautiful.
Travelling at night, I just tried to sleep, even though I wasn’t very successful.
Unsurprisingly, the Kondor bus picks up more passengers at a number of towns in the Serbian-dominated parts of Bosnia such as Pale and Sokolac on its way to Belgrade.
The journey seemed to take forever on these winding roads.
Being extremely tired yet unable to sleep and having to go to the toilet (unfortunately the bus had none) certainly did not make the journey any faster.
To my big relief, at 1am we finally made a 15-minute rest stop at a gas station on the M19 road near Konjevići.
At the border
Our Sarajevo-Belgrade bus crossed the border between Bosnia and Serbia at Karakaj.
Here, the two countries are separated by the River Drina.
It was 2am and freezing cold outside when we arrived at the Bosnian border post.
At both border posts everyone had to disembark the bus and wait at the far end of the pavement until everyone had cleared passport control and the bus could pick us up again.
Fortunately, it all went relatively fast and after a short time waiting at each border post we were all back inside the warm bus for the final stint towards Belgrade.
Having crossed the border, I was still unable to sleep.
Only when the bus finally hit the A3 motorway west of Belgrade I managed to get some shut-eye.
However, it was only a short bit of sleep as it didn’t take long before I woke up again when we arrived at the outskirts of Belgrade.
Just before 6am, the bus pulled into Belgrade’s big central bus station.
I was absolutely destroyed by the overnight bus journey and couldn’t wait to get home again.
It therefore was a small relief that I made it to Belgrade safe and sound and would be able to catch my flight home and recuperate in the Air Serbia lounge at the airport before boarding.
After a typical Balkan breakfast of burek and yoghurt from a bus station bakery I slowly made my way to the airport.
If you walk out of the bus station you will pass along the building which used to be Belgrade’s main railway station.
It was rather jarring seeing the doors of the station firmly shut as it symbolises the decline of the railways in both Serbia as well as in other Balkan countries.
Although a brand new station far out of Belgrade’s city centre has replaced this beautiful old railway station, train services are still absolutely dismal with the only international service out of Serbia being a daily train to Podgorica and Bar in Montenegro at the moment.
If only a night train had run between Sarajevo and Belgrade and I would have been able to get some proper sleep instead of being broken on an overnight bus..!
If you want to travel between Sarajevo and Belgrade there are basically three options: Drive yourself, fly, or take a bus.
With my flight being cancelled, I had no choice but to take the bus.
I have travelled by bus before between Bosnia and Serbia and on the plus side the views from the window are usually quite scenic and ticket prices affordable.
However, don’t expect any luxury on board these buses and do take into account that in reality the ride takes much longer than route planners like Google Maps will make you belief.
I wouldn’t recommend taking the overnight bus as chances are that you will have zero sleep and you will arrive at your destination feeling completely dead.
It’s certainly not an experience I wish to repeat any time soon!